The Turkish Government under President Edrogan has shut down about 160 media organisations and imprisoned over a hundred journalists, a notorious crackdown that was set off by the failed military coup attempt in July.
The Venice Commission, setup by the Council of Europe warned that measures taken by the government went beyond what is permitted by the Turkish Constitution and by international law. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) also came out, calling the situation in Turkey as ‘terrifying’.
“It is unacceptable that in the 21st century in a country that so many hoped was moving in a positive direction to suddenly have the terrifying situation where people are scared to express their views,” Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE’s representative on freedom of the media, said in an interview in Hamburg.
Independent publications have been hit the hardest. One of them, Cumhuriyet, has seen its chief executive and editor, as well as a leading columnist, Kadri Gursel, arrested by Turkish authorities. They now join seven other journalists from the publication who were arrested earlier.
“Clearly, democracy cannot flourish under Erdogan now.”
Gursel was arrested for calling upon his readers to light a cigarette as a symbol of protest, against the increasing authoritarian rule of President Erdogan and his party, the AKP. The Turkish Police has charged Gursel with terrorism.
The government has also arrested and charged over 36,000 citizens, and suspended or dismissed more than 100,000 state personnel.
Edrogan and his ministers accused the media of sensationalist reporting, with the intent of heightening passions against the government among the populace. Right after the coup attempt, the state launched a massive and coordinated campaign to countermand the influence journalists have in Turkey. Those journalists who were not jailed, were kept under surveillance.
“We are determined on the issue, regardless of what the world may say,” Erdoğan said. “We won’t allow the people to be devoured by YouTube, Facebook or others. Whatever steps need to be taken we will take them without wavering.”
Meanwhile, in an effort to control the flow of news and information reaching the public, Turkish officials have tried to choke access to social media. The government even succeed in shutting down Twitter for some time.
According to a Transparency report published by Twitter, the company say they have received an unprecedented wave of complaints from Turkey, to remove posts that are deemed offensive.
Considering the current circumstances, it is imperative that Turkish citizens be aware of the $600,000 Spy software purchased by the Government in 2014, from Hacking Team, a company that supplies sophisticated spyware to governments.
Citizen Lab published a report on the nature and dangers of this untraceable spy software, which can be used for mass surveillance. It can grab passwords, download data from hard disks, take photos from webcams or front cameras. For a Turkish journalist or activist, it is only wise to assume that their phones, tablets and computers are already infected with the government’s spyware, and are being constantly monitored.
The regime has openly promoted pro-government journalists, and given them preferential access to state authorities and newsreel. While at the same time, starving defiant media houses of information, besides stifling their normal operations by constantly raiding or closing down their offices.
Journalists are intimidated also on social media platforms by supporters of the AKP. Female journalists are attacked the most, with trolls using multiple fake Twitter and Facebook accounts to brand them “sluts” or “whores”.